This 2002 photo shows the northbound I-95 at EXIT 29 (MD 212 / Powder Mill Road) in Beltsville. The "autobahn-style" exit sign in this photo dates back to the opening of I-95 in 1971. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
PLANNED AS A DOWNTOWN-TO-DOWNTOWN ROUTE: The opening of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) in 1954 took thousands of cars off old US 1 (Baltimore-Washington Boulevard), but because the parkway had low-clearance bridges and ramps not suitable for trucks and buses, its use was restricted to passenger cars. Growing truck and bus traffic on US 1, along with projections of dramatic traffic increases on the four-lane Baltimore-Washington Parkway, prompted officials to consider a "third route" (as it soon came to be called): a freeway open to all traffic connecting the two cities.
The 1956 Interstate Highway Act signed by President Eisenhower - and its promise of 90 percent financing - paved the way for the third route, which formally received the I-95 designation in 1958. Although the exact entry points in Baltimore and Washington were yet to be determined, the following corridors were considered for the third route:
The leading proposal from the Maryland State Roads Commission (SRC) called for a freeway to be built between US 1 and US 29 through Prince Georges and Howard counties. This was the "downtown-to-downtown" connection that was to link Baltimore's Southwest Freeway with Washington's Northeast Freeway.
Under a competing proposal submitted by Prince Georges County officials, the freeway would be built east of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in the right-of-way of the abandoned Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis Electric Railroad. It would extend northeast through Prince Georges and Anne Arundel counties to the Harbor Tunnel (I-895) in Baltimore. The National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPPC) favor this proposal because its entry point in the District would not result in as many residential disruptions as the SRC proposal.
By the fall of 1958, the entire length of the route from Baltimore to West Hyattsville had been mapped. News of the mapped route came out in a Prince Georges County zoning hearing in which an SRC district right-of-way engineer revealed that a 10-acre plot of land was in the path of the proposed third route. Meanwhile, SRC officials grew inpatient with District officials over planning delays with the Northeast Freeway, estimating that each week of delay cost Maryland $10,000 per week because of increased real estate and related costs.
SHIFTING FOCUS ON AN IMPROVED BW PARKWAY: In the mid-1960's, SRC Chairman John Funk advocated abandoning plans for the third route and sought instead to improve the existing Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Funk sought $23 million to Federal funds to purchase the Federally-owned parkway section; these funds were to be used to replace the parkway's bridges to accommodate trucks and buses, widen the parkway to six lanes (from four) along the entire Federally-owned section, add lighting, and improve signs. The additional funds did not include those to improve the state-owned parkway section.
However, plans to upgrade the parkway to Interstate standards came with strings attached: there would be no funds allowed for the third route, which was estimated at the time to cost $36 million. Many officials said the new I-95 route was necessary to deal with as many as 195,000 vehicles per day (AADT) in the Baltimore-Washington corridor by 1985.
This 2002 photo shows the northbound I-95 at EXIT 38 (MD 32 / Patuxtent Freeway) in Jessup. The connecting section of the Patuxtent Freeway was the first section of that freeway to open; the MD 32 Freeway has yet to be completed northwest to I-70. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
THE THIRD ROUTE BECOMES REALITY: On February 27, 1968, the SRC formally announced construction plans and advertised bids for the "beltway-to-beltway" section of I-95. By this time, the cost of this 22-mile section had risen to $50 million.
Originally planned for six lanes, the freeway's capacity was increased to eight lanes in anticipation of the 110,000 vehicles per day it was to accommodate by 1985. Built to accommodate a 70 MPH design speed, this section of I-95 was to incorporate safety advances such a 30-foot distance between the pavement and the nearest obstacle. A wide right-of-way - as much as 600 feet at interchanges - provided a wide landscaped median and a buffer for adjacent communities.
Several local roads (MD 212, MD 198, MD 216, and MD 175) were widened to four lanes from two. Two local roads (MD 32 and MD 166) were slated for conversion to freeways (Patuxtent Freeway and Metropolitan Boulevard / I-195), while a new highway connection to US 1 was built in anticipation of MD 100 (Paul T. Pitcher Memorial Highway), which originally was planned as Baltimore's Outer Beltway. Another interchange was planned for a southern extension of the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (I-895), which would provide a nearly straight-line bypass of downtown Baltimore.
Construction of I-95 began in the summer of 1968 as even as sections south of the Capital Beltway into the District and north of the Baltimore Beltway into Baltimore were held up by court orders and planning reviews. Nevertheless, SRC engineers incorporated future extensions of I-95 into Baltimore and Washington into their final designs. A final design for I-95 into Baltimore was selected by a coalition of city, state, and Federal officials - the so-called "3-C" plan in 1969. However, the SRC killed plans for an extension into Washington in 1973 after District officials acceded to community activists who opposed the Northeast Freeway (I-95) and the North Central Freeway (I-95 and I-70S / I-270). Even today, vestiges of the original plan exist in the form of wide bridges over the Capital Beltway (I-495) in College Park and the park-and-ride lot immediately south of this interchange.
This section of I-95 was scheduled for completion by the fall of 1970, but construction delays caused by material shortages delayed the opening by nine months. When it opened in July 1971, the cost of this section had risen to $79 million.
CHANGES FOR INTERCHANGES: Over the years, several changes were made between I-95 and connecting roads:
1973: A new interchange (EXIT 45) opened to link I-95 with the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (I-895). I-895 traffic rejoins I-95 at EXIT 62 at the northeast edge of Baltimore City.
1986: At the southern terminus of this section in College Park, a new two-lane, high-speed ramp was built to connect southbound I-95 with the southbound (inner loop of the) Capital Beltway (I-495). The Capital Beltway had carried the I-95 designation from College Park south to Springfield, Virginia since 1977. The new ramp replaced an older one-lane cloverleaf loop ramp that created bottlenecks on southbound I-95. Around this time, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) opened a new park-and-ride lot on the right-of-way of what was to have been the I-95 extension toward the District (Northeast Freeway).
1998: After more than a quarter-century, the ramps for MD 100 to and from Ellicott City finally opened, coinciding with the completion of that freeway west to US 29 (Columbia Pike).
Future plans call for the construction of a new interchange (EXIT 31) for the recently approved Intercounty Connector (MD 200) in Laurel. The proposed interchange configuration for the new EXIT 31 would comprise of collector-distributor (C/D) roads along I-95 and a cloverleaf interchange. The $1.6 billion Intercounty Connector is being planned as a toll road along rights-of-way acquired by the state in the 1960's for the Washington Outer Beltway. Formal groundbreaking for the connector took place on October 12, 2006, with completion currently scheduled for 2011.
REBUILDING A CRITICAL LINK: In 2000 and 2001, the SHA rebuilt much of this section of I-95. The old concrete surface - which had not been replaced in 30 years - was replaced with a layer of asphalt. The $30 million project also saw rehabilitation of several bridges along the route. Much of this work was completed at night.
According to the SHA, the average "between the beltways" section of I-95 carries between 150,000 and 200,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
This 2004 photo shows the southbound I-95 at EXIT 43 (MD 100 / Paul T. Pitcher Memorial Highway) in Elkridge. The section of MD 100 immediately east of I-95 (to US 1) opened concurrently with I-95 in 1971. For more than a quarter century, stub ramps to the section of MD 100 west of I-95 sat unused; this section of MD 100 (to US 29) did not open until 1998. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
SOURCES: "Meeting Slated Wednesday on Third Baltimore Route," The Washington Post (4/10/1957); "Third Highway to Baltimore Considered," The Washington Post (6/15/1957); "Third Baltimore-DC Route Charted, but Maryland Keeps Details Secret" by Hal Willard, The Washington Post (9/18/1958); "DC Delay in Selecting Highway Route Rapped" by Hal Willard, The Washington Post (11/20/1958); "Planned Freeway To Link Downtown to Prince Georges" by Jack Eisen, The Washington Post (12/28/1958); "Proposed Route," The Washington Post (8/09/1959); "Maryland Plans New Roads for DC Suburbs," The Washington Post (12/06/1963); "Slim Prospect Is Seen of Improving Parkway" by Alan L. Dessoff, The Washington Post (9/16/1965); "Construction Slated Highway to Begin on Third Major DC Route" by Sheldon Smith, The Baltimore Sun (2/28/1968); "Work Is Set on I-95 Link to Baltimore" by Bart Barnes, The Washington Post (2/28/1968); "State to Improve Roads Leading off Interstate 95" by Jack Eisen, The Washington Post (4/11/9168); "Wolff Hits 'Liberal Thinking' for Blocking I-95 from DC" by Peter A. Jay, The Washington Post (1/30/1969); "Maryland Officials Survey Work on I-95 Leg" by B.D. Colen, The Washington Post (9/24/1970); "Maryland Approves Intercounty Connector Route" by Steven Ginsberg and Katherine Shaver, The Washington Post (7/12/2005); Scott Kozel; Mike Pruett; Alexander Svirsky.
I-95 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.
INTERSTATE 95-MARYLAND ("BETWEEN THE BELTWAYS") LINKS: